Monday, January 8, 2007

New Years Countdown in Bangkok 3-2-1 BOOM

Bombs! Well New Years Eve is supposed to be the bomb, but in Bangkok this year it was more like the lingering rumors of and occasional actual reports of bombs being set off around the city, put everyone in a hushed and somber mood.

I met my usual celebratory crew at a fine outdoor restaurant north of down town. The place was really filling up in the early evening. It was the typical Bangkok joint, an outdoor patio surrounding a pool where lights blink and play within a blue water pool. One giant screen is set in the corner and of course English football is on the screen. Manchester United against someone who is going to lose.

Our waitresses were in high spirits, anticipating big tips and a fun night of stupid customer watching. Our main server, in Thailand you usually have about 4, was a girl named Jai (which means heart) in Thai.

Sukhum and his wife Eat, my girl Nan and I were the first to arrive. We'd ordered the usually stuff, spicy shrimp, Sum Thum, grilled chicken, some spicy beef with some fresh peppers smeared across it. Now if you think of Mexican food as spicy, stay out of Thailand because that stuff is just sour. Thai food is brow beading, tongue burning, HOT MAN. I love it, and it has a great deal to do with why I chose Thailand to set up my new life.

Then Pat and Poom arrived, but they would be the last of a much longer list of friends who were supposed to show up. All our phones, in Thailand everyone has a mobile phone and I can't remember the last person I met with a land-line, land-line is a cool retronym by the way. I'll explain retronyms on another day. A fun game for English nerds to play is the retronym battle. Not today.

So all our phones kind of erupted at once. "What the hell was going on?" Sukhum's face, already white from his Chinese heritage, dropped a shade lighter as he set down his phone. "Bombs. At least 3 have gone off already."
"Seacon Square, victory monument, and some down town place, like Sogo," he said.
I could feel my stomach tighten and my spirits drop. I instantly thought back to my day in America some six years ago when I watched, along with a class full of my students, as the second plane collided with the World Trade Center. I knew that day that it meant war, but worse than that I knew that the generation who was seated all around me were going to be the ones to pay with their blood.
"Yeah, something like 7 have gone off," Poom added.
We spent the next half hour calling everyone close to us. Our food kept arriving, but our appetites were diminished and much of the food sat unattended for a while. We had a couple of bottles of wine and that went quickly!
Everyone I spoke to sounded confused, especially those watching BBC news or CNN news, as they were reporting the Thai government was setting off their own bombs. Bizarre stuff, rumors, things of political and of course Islamic references were bouncing back and forth insanely.
"What next?" I said, not helping the levity of our little group. I hate that about myself, but maybe its my age, and having watched for some 39 years of this kind of thing, but little bombs attacking poor bus commuters is just a message. It's like saying, 'we are not being heard but we're about to be.' And, when no one cares because it was 3 poor people who died and they don't get the response they desired, WHAT NEXT?
I saw the bomb attacks build in America. This scare, that explosion but few lives lost, until finally they brought the entire world to a stop with the fall of the World Trade Centers.
We began to relax. Maybe it was the wine, because Pat quickly ordered us a 3rd bottle and we guzzled it down as well. We debated forgetting about going out to some night club for the countdown. Then, when another group of our friends said they would be at a night club not far away from us, we decided to go for it. At the time no one had died yet from the bombs, as I said 3 would be announced later.
"Small bombs at bus stops, they aren't trying to kill influential people or people with money. Let's go ahead and go," my friend Year had proclaimed over the phone.
I know I really should describe all my friends for anyone who might be reading this, but in truth I feel to lazy to do that at this moment. Perhaps I need to do a bit of writing first and then one day I'll do a little roll call of those in my life. That would be easy enough. I don't actually think anyone is reading this anyway.

We did go to a club, but only about 10 of the 25 or so people we thought would be meeting there actually showed up. We drank a little, danced a little, well Nan and I always dance. Nan is a great dancer and I love to watch her dance so I just go out there and try my best.

There was a gloom to our merriment. There was a sense of graveness hanging just outside the doors of the club or was it in the bathroom stalls or was it waiting in the streets on our car journey home. No matter how much we teased each other, joked, drank, or danced in the end our spirits just couldn't hold the fantasy that this was just another New Years Eve.

"Hey its 2007, well, let's go home," Sukhum said only thirty or so minutes after the turning of the year.


Home and in bed by two.